GPs most likely to be banned for patient sex

Last updated 07:03 27/07/2012
Reseachers found medical tribunals had a very low tolerance for sex between doctors and patients due to the power imbalance.

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Doctors are more likely to be struck off for having sex with patients than for misdiagnosing, breaching patient confidentiality, or performing the wrong operations, a new study shows.

The research on doctor misconduct in Australia and New Zealand found medical tribunals removed or deregistered doctors for character flaws and lack of insight more often than for errors in care or poor clinical knowledge.

Researchers from Melbourne University expected to find zero tolerance for sexual relationships with patients, but found it was unclear why having sex with a patient was much more strongly linked with removal than other forms of sexual misconduct.

Tribunals tended to dismiss the idea that patient consent had any weight, given the doctor/patient power imbalance.

"Rather, the ongoing and typically clandestine nature of sexual relationships, often combined with a lack of insight and remorse, elevates the seriousness of this conduct from a public protection perspective."

Researchers analysed 485 professional misconduct cases over 10 years from New Zealand, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia in which doctors were found guilty.

Of the 79 cases in which doctors were guilty of a sexual relationship with a patient, 64 were removed from practice, according to the study published this week in the British Medical Journal.

Although it was far more common for doctors to be found guilty of inappropriate or inadequate treatment, writing inappropriate medical certificates and records, and illegal and unethical prescribing, they were much less likely to be removed for such offences.

One reason could be that "dysfunctional behaviours and clear signs of bad character may be perceived as relatively untreatable", while a lack of knowledge or problems in the work environment might seem easier to correct.

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- The Dominion Post

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